- The Washington Times - Friday, December 11, 2009

NEW YORK | A jump in exports lifted stocks Thursday, offsetting concerns about an increase in unemployment claims.

The market came away with moderate gains for the day after the Commerce Department said rising exports helped narrow the nation’s trade gap to $32.9 billion in October. Economists had been expecting an increase.

A weaker dollar is raising demand for U.S. goods by making them less expensive for overseas buyers. That trend helped to lift U.S. exports by 2.5 percent, the sixth straight monthly increase.

The trade figures helped offset mixed jobs numbers. The Labor Department said the number of laid-off workers seeking jobless benefits rose more than expected last week to 474,000 after falling for five straight weeks. That was higher than analysts were expecting, but a less-volatile four-week average fell to the lowest level since September 2008.

The gains in stocks came as the dollar stabilized. For months, stocks and the dollar have moved in the opposite direction. Record-low U.S. interest rates have made the dollar less attractive to investors, who are more confident in an economic recovery and seeking assets such as stocks and commodities that can offer better returns than cash.

In recent weeks, signs of improvement in the economy have brought expectations that the Federal Reserve might raise interest rates sooner than expected. That would strengthen the dollar and could shake up the stock market as investors rejigger their portfolios.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 68.78, or 0.7 percent, to 10,405.83, pushing it back into the winning column for the month. The Dow is up 120 points in two days after falling 104 on Tuesday on worries about rising debt loads in a number of countries.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index rose 6.40, or 0.6 percent, to 1,102.35, while the Nasdaq Composite Index rose 7.13, or 0.3 percent, to 2,190.86.

In other trading, Treasury prices fell for a second day after an auction of 30-year bonds drew weak demand. The slump in prices for long-dated bonds pushed yields higher. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note rose to 3.50 percent from 3.44 percent late Wednesday, while the yield on the 30-year bond rose to 4.51 percent from 4.42 percent.

The Russell 2000 Index of smaller companies fell 2.65, or 0.4 percent, to 595.38.

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